Forget all the talk about democracy and a revolt against tyranny, the choice here isn't being a tyrant and a populist movement, it's which species of Islamists will come out on top. On one side is Iran and on the other are the Gulf States and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Forget all the nonsense
about a secular opposition. The so-called liberals will show up just
enough to legitimate the uprising and then fade away when it's time for
the Imams to take power. That is how it happened in Iran, and despite
every prediction too many people refused to listen when they were told
it would happen in Egypt. Now it has happened in Egypt.
Some neo-conservatives have insisted on treating the
Arab Spring as if it were an extension of Iraq. It's not. Iraq was meant
to be a supervised reconstruction. The Arab Spring empowers Islamists
and nothing else. So let's move on to the real issue. Is there any point
in backing one side or the other in Syria?
To begin with,
what is Syria? It's a leftover from the days when the Middle East was
overrun with local Arab Socialist tyrannies. Like most of the breed, the
Syrian version was another combination of military coup, family dynasty
tied in with religious and ethnic elements. Run by the Baath Party as
an extension of the Assad family and the Alawite splinter Shiite sect,
it's one of the last of the old tyrannies standing after the fall of
Saddam. But none of that really matters.
The days when Syria was anything more than a bypass for Iranian
weapons and influence are long gone. There was a time when it was a
building block in the Arab Socialist plan for a regional state and even
briefly merged with Egypt into the United Arab Republic. Now it's the
odd man out in a region that is being divided along religious lines. It
doesn't fit into the Sunni Islamist plans for a Caliphate and while it
is a vector for Iranian Shiite influence, the Alawites are too out of
the mainstream and Syria is mostly Sunni, making it another poor fit.
In a divided region everyone is trying to make their own regional
superstate. If the Assad family is overthrown and the Muslim
Brotherhood's version of democracy wins, then Syria will fit neatly into
the plans for a regional Caliphate. It will also neuter Hezbollah,
damage Hamas and set back Iran, which are all good things. Unfortunately
it's a matter of choosing the devil you don't know. Choking Iranian
influence is not a bad thing, but the long term implications of handing
over Syria to the Brotherhood are just as bad, if not worse.
Whatever happens the United States is not going to oversee the
transition in Syria. At most Obama will drop a few bombs and then let
the locals handle it, just as he did in Libya. There it led to the LIFG,
which is linked to Al-Qaeda and more recently to the Muslim
Brotherhood, playing a major role in the new Libya. The situation is
even worse in Syria, where the transition is likely to be overseen by
Turkey's AKP Islamist party,which is backing the Muslim Brotherhood.
The thorniest parts of the Arab Spring have been in Bahrain and
Syria, where they also double as religious civil wars fought by a
religious majority that is out of power against a religious minority in
power. The Saudi controlled Arab League backed a No Fly Zone in exchange
for a free hand in suppressing the Shiites in Bahrain using Saudi
tanks. The Arab League has ostracized Syria, which is led by an
unrecognized Islamic sect and is in bed with Iran. It's not
inconceivable that the League would back another No Fly Zone as a
gateway to regime change in Syria.
Does the United States
have an interest in backing Sunni supremacy in the region? Not really.
There are plenty of politicians, experts and generals who think
otherwise, and most of them are speaking under Saudi influence. If
anything we have a vested interest in a divided Muslim world, and it is
in our interest to deepen and multiply those divisions. But that isn't
much of a plan either.
While it's not
likely that those countries could currently be blended into a single
leadership, the fact of the matter is that Saudi Arabia is no longer the
only Sunni Islamist superpower in the region. And joining it are two
Sunni Islamist regimes with potent militaries at their disposal and
serious naval power. Iraq is still in flux, and we have yet to see if it
will fall back into the Sunni camp or away into the Shiite camp. Syria
is now in play.
Backing the democratic impulses of the Syrian people or any such
nonsense is the last thing that should be on our minds. The idea that
populist Islamism will lead to less violence and more stability is an
ominous notion. We're better off with a Muslim world that is occupied
with internal power struggles and has fewer resources to throw into
fighting us. A stable Middle East would not be a peaceful place, it
could only achieve internal equilibrium through religious and political
repression for the benefit of the majority, while directing violence
externally at the free world.
This is already the case, but the amount of resources being
thrown into the war against the West is limited compared to what it
could be if Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, Syria, the UAE, Iraq and Yemen
were all suddenly on the same page. Such a perfect union isn't likely to
happen, even with religious differences out of the way, the ethnic
divisions between Arabs and Turks still linger, not to mention the
family rivalries, but the prospect of such a thing alone is a good
reason not to pursue policies that bring it any closer.
American ascendance along with the collapse of the USSR poured
money into the Gulf Islamist clan despotisms and brought down the Arab
Socialist republics. But the Obama Administration and its Arab Spring
has brought a quantum leap in the expansion of their influence at home.
Traditionally the Saudis could own Washington DC and play ball in
Bahrain and Yemen, but their influence had limits. Suddenly even Qatar
and its Al-Jazeera pet network could buy it regional revolutions backed
by the idiots in DC.
The Carter Administration helped turn Iran into a Shiite Islamist
superpower, and his successor has paved the way for the rise of a
regional Sunni Islamist union. Paradoxically that means we need Iran to
be where it is, although preferably without nuclear weapons and even
more preferably without Ayatollah rule.
The problem with
a divided Middle East is that rival Muslim countries will prove their
bona fides by waging open or covert wars against us. But the only thing
worse than that is a united Middle East, it isn't likely to happen, but
even growing unity or partial unity would be bad enough.
If the Brotherhood wins in Egypt and Syria, they can have another
go at melding the two countries under a single system. If they can
stage a revolution in Jordan, and move the LIFG into power in Libya,
then there could be an Islamist superstate stretching from North Africa
through Gaza and sitting on the board of Iraq, which will become ground
zero for another religious civil war.
The Muslim world is torn in a civil war between religions,
philosophies and dynasties. It's conceivably possible that in Iran, with
a large educated elite that is tired of Islamists, we might find some
friends among the rebels, but it's an absolutely hopeless task in Syria,
which is riven between the outdated left and the Islamist right. Just
as it was a hopeless task in Egypt.
Whatever happens in Syria will be bad for us in some ways and
good for us in others, it will harm some of our enemies and help some of
our other enemies. There's no reason for us to intervene in Syria
because the losses will outweigh the gains.